Could Ikea-style ‘flatpack clothes’ be the future of fashion? – The Guardian

The Malm – Ikea’s minimalist, three-drawer chest – is a staple of the student and twenty-something interior design aesthetic. Walls might be decorated with posters of the Cocteau Twins, Gucci Mane or Ellie Goulding, but the Malm is always there, reminding us that behind our affectations lies a universal need for practical, low-cost furniture.

Fashion works in much the same way. There’s a pair of 1980s denier black opaque tights from M&S underpinning most autumn/winter looks. But according to the predictions of one expert, Fortune 500 businessman Stefan Engeseth, high-street fashion trends as a whole could be going the way of Ikea. According to Engeseth, the future of fashion could be flatpack.

Let’s take a moment to think about what this means: clothes coming in separate parts to be easily assembled at home and adjusted for the purposes of different wearers. Waistbands on trousers you can adjust if you’re in between sizes. DIY sleeve lengths. Adjustable collars. Pick-your-own buttons. Or simply hundreds of T-shirts in the colour you want.

He also explains how building your own clothes from scratch is not just a practical move – it has an emotional effect on the wearer … customers can personalise and “hack the designs” as he explains in a press release. Imagine the sense of pride you’d get from designing and making your own clothes.

At this stage it’s worth mentioning this is at the moment totally hypothetical. A representative from the company also assures me it has no immediate plans to launch a fashion line. But, as extreme as it sounds, surely it’s no more far-fetched than believing 3D printing to be the saviour of fashion, which many experts think it might be.

Ikea in Germany.
Ikea in Germany
Photograph: Peter Kneffel/Peter Kneffel/dpa/Corbis

Is it a realistic move? I think there are two schools of thought. The first one places craftsmanship at its core. Of course independent retailers selling bespoke pieces made by local designers using ethically sourced materials is a preferable alternative to the “stack ’em high, sell them cheap and dispose of them six months later” philosophy. Furthermore, with sequin-and-bead embellishment exposed as being one of the biggest drivers of slave labour, the simple, no-frills approach of the Scandinavian design aesthetic would be a welcome move away from that. But would this be a viable option for most average to low-income consumers? It seems unlikely.

The second is more utilitarian. Minimal is always a popular look and the idea of creating a uniform at home is, of course, appealing. It is also easy to see why this would be the assumed progression of the much talked about “normcore” trend channelled by the Gap “Dress Normal” campaign and seen in the widespread popularity of Muji and Uniqlo.

But while it’s one thing to dress as Winston Smith on your weekends, it’s another to suggest that people will want to alter their spending habits and do away with the process of browsing, trying on and purchasing be it in-store or online. What’s more, Engeseth’s theory seems to overlook the fairly glaring fact that most people don’t have the confidence to assemble their own clothes. Presumably, flatpack clothing will be easier than anything on the Great Sewing Bee but it still requires a basic level of practical skill.

It’s easy to see why the proposed Ikea model would seem desirable alternative to disposable fashion. It’s just whether it’s a realistic one. I mean – could you be bothered to build your own T-shirt before going out for a drink? I doubt it.

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